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Monday, 10 November 2008
Page: 99


Senator MOORE (10:20 PM) —There seems to be a bit of a theme going on this evening, Senator Crossin! Last Saturday night, my friend former Senator Ruth Webber and I, and several hundred other people, gathered together at the Roundhouse Theatre at the University of New South Wales for the third Comedy for Cancer event. We were very fortunate in 2006 to meet an extraordinary woman, Tanya Smith. She gave evidence in Perth to our inquiry into gynaecological cancer. Tanya submitted her story of being diagnosed, as a young woman of 40, with ovarian cancer. As she said in her evidence, she did not even know what it was when she got the diagnosis, but she knew there was something wrong. So Tanya gave us a submission and a chance to see into her life and the life of her partner, Cathy. But there was much more. Tanya was not prepared to just go through the medical process; she was absolutely determined that through her efforts money would be raised for the ongoing treatment of ovarian cancer in this country. She had been fortunate enough to be involved in clinical trials. In a number of the inquiries that the Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs has done on this issue, the absolute importance of clinical trials in the ongoing treatment of people who have cancer, and also their future survival, has been reiterated over and over again by professional people and also by those of us who are working through the process ourselves.

In Tanya’s evidence in August 2006 she said that it was important for her to be involved in the clinical trial. But, as she said, in the long term:

… anyone who has been in a trial realises that you do so not only to try to benefit yourself, which is probably unlikely in the short term; in the long term it is benefiting everybody who has ovarian cancer. The information is invaluable.

In her submission, Tanya talked about the support that she had been given by Professor Michael Friedlander, who was also a submitter to our inquiry. Professor Friedlander is involved with an organisation with the most unattractive name, ANZGOG, the Australia and New Zealand Gynaecological Oncology Group. This group is a network of clinicians and researchers dedicated to improving prevention, detection, treatment and end of life care for women with gynaecological cancers. It is made up of technicians and professionals from across a range of areas who volunteer to be involved in this process and to identify services that can be provided to women who are working through their own processes.

Professor Friedlander says that clinical trials are widely recognised as the best way to improve outcomes for all cancers. Gynaecological cancers are no exception. There are a range of trials going on at the moment across the world, and ANZGOG makes sure that Australian women can be part of that, but it costs a lot of money. We know through the work that goes on with Cancer Australia—a wonderful organisation; we have talked about it in this place before—that the use of clinical trials is a key priority for their work. Professor Friedlander acknowledges that. There must be ongoing federal government involvement in the funding of these trials. There needs to be much more involvement of private enterprise and also of individual donors to keep funding this essential research.

What do a group of feisty women do when they see that they have to continue raising money? They form the most irreverent group of comedians and ensure that through this process people can laugh, enjoy and extract the last cent from your wallet before you escape from the Roundhouse Theatre. They have raised an astonishing amount over three consecutive Comedy for Cancer events in Sydney. The first performance was just before Tanya came to see us in 2006. At that quite small event in inner Sydney, they raised about $40,000. This gave them a taste for bringing people together to have fun. They saw that they would be able not only to benefit other people who were going through the process but also to raise public awareness of this issue which continues to be so important. As Tanya told us in 2006, informed, educated women just do not understand the symptoms and the processes that can attack their body when they have ovarian cancer. My standing here this evening, where Jeannie Ferris talked to us many times about her own experiences, brings that home in a very personal way.

The first Comedy for Cancer in the mid-2000s gave these women the incentive to keep going. With a group of volunteer professionals in Sydney, there have now been two subsequent events. The event in 2006, which was the first one that Ruth Webber and I were able to attend at Tanya’s invitation, raised over $70,000. The event that we went to last Saturday evening exceeded that amount. Before we heard the final total, we knew that more than $70,000 had been raised by people who had shown that such effort can be successful and that people can work together. People are not asking for pity—that is the last thing on their minds—but there is something particularly confronting about women who are working through a process themselves standing in front of a crowded theatre and saying: ‘We need your help.’

Last Saturday evening was particularly poignant because Tanya is no longer with us. Her partner and the person who worked alongside her to get this process going, Cathy McCrae, was up there on the stage saying to us that this battle needs to continue. We need to continue to raise funds and to draw together women and comedians such as the extraordinary Jackie Loeb and Shelley Silverman who performed an act the other night that I think will provide a particular view on the platinum sponsor Speedo in terms of the old Skyhooks song ‘Speedo is not a dirty word’. I think that everybody who was in that theatre will remember the act and think about how important that particular process was.

The MC for the evening was the wonderful Julie McCrossin. We have all heard her on the ABC over many years. Julie called on women to take control of their lives, to have awareness campaigns and to work with each other to increase their strength but also to value their own humour as they work through the process. We must say thank you to people who are able to work together in this way and the number of professionals who gave all their time and activity free for the evening. That is how we can money, because there is no other way we can make that kind of money. We, along with Professor Friedlander, were then able to continue the message to families and people across our country. We want to get their support and for them to be aware that clinical trials are available. We want them to see the results and to understand that the best possible treatments, the best possible medications and the best possible international responses can only be achieved through the effective use and funding of clinical trials in our country.

In the final act of the evening, it was Jean Kitson, who is well known to so many of us, who reinforced the message that we had heard during the Community Affairs References Committee on Gynaecological Cancer. It was that message that we included in our report a couple of years ago. We called it the ‘silent voice’. In Jean’s comedy sketch, she said, ‘As long as ovarian cancer is the quiet voice, people may be able to overlook the issues.’ As we walked out of the Roundhouse Theatre the other evening, we committed again to be back there in two years time to have fun, to celebrate, to be quite outrageous and to behave badly. We will not be quiet.

Ovarian cancer kills many women every year in our country and across the world. We know that one in three Australians will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime. Ovarian cancer is the most common cause of gynaecological cancer deaths in Australian women. However, we know that there can be a cure. We know that there are more success stories now than there were three or four years ago. One of the major causes for the success is the more effective use of clinical trials. The many thousands of dollars that Comedy for Cancer has earned and will continue to earn will ensure that we will have more effective trials in this country. Women like Tanya will never be forgotten. Ovarian cancer will not be the quiet voice and we will continue to work together to find a cure.